Friday, October 31, 2014

GSK, Riga, reporting and ice cream

We were delighted to work once again this year with GSK Latvia on the development of the company's second Corporate Responsibility Report for 2013. The report is the local story of this GSK subsidiary which is making a big impact in a small country with a modest team of just 46 people. The commitment to local transparency and engagement is fantastic. The look and feel of the report aligns with the global GSK report design and structure. GSK Latvia applies global policies and approaches of its parent company including GSK's strong stand on ethics, sales team incentives based on behaviors rather than sales volumes, cessation of payments to physicians for speaking engagements or conference attendance, transparent research practices, investment in employee development and positive environmental practices. However, alongside confirming the way these practices are implemented in Latvia, the content of GSK Latvia's report is finely tailored to the activities and expectations of local patients, healthcare system and team.

Many companies don't make the effort  to report at local level. A global report, covering headlines of global activity, is generally regarded by most of the major multinational corporations as being enough. Big tick. Done that. Report published. At local level, however, the report comes alive. It speaks to local stakeholders about the things that affect their local lives. A recent post from Revital Bitan at Intel (where I contributed some insights) speaks about the importance to Intel in Israel of local reporting and the value it brings. the post is entitled: In CSR Reporting - everything is local!   

Back to Latvia and a report which is full of local people and local flavor. Hear from many GSK Latvian staff and from many local GSK Latvia partners and stakeholders in a report which showcases the incredible energy and commitment of this compact team. For example:

Patient Advocacy: GSK Latvia supports a range of local organizations such as the Asthma and Allergy Society, the Pulmonary Hypertension Society, HIV groups, the Rheumatics society, and the Association of Disabled Women and more. Several leaders of these organizations report how GSK's engagement helps them advance their activities and support patients who need far more than the state healthcare system is able to offer. 

Leading sustainability in Latvia: GSK Latvia is the first and only pharma company to have been honored in Latvia's Sustainability Index for 2013. The Index recognizes advanced sustainability strategy, management and practice and sets the standard for companies in Latvia. 

Funding local causes and volunteering in the community: Even a company of less than 50 people can make an impact. And that's what GSK Latvia sets out to do with its local flagship programs - Mission Possible (an initiative that helps drive quality leadership in education through support for teachers and school principals) and the Small Grants Programme (which awards up to Eur 700 per project for locally relevant initiatives - 9 initiatives have been supported in the last two years) as well as participating in the GSK global volunteering effort under the umbrella of Orange Day. It amazes me how such a small and very busy team manages to do so much. 

Family friendly: On the inside, GSK Latvia has achieved Family Friendly status as recognized by the Ministry of Welfare in the Latvian Government. GSK Latvia is the first local pharma company to achieve this status. In a team where 50% of managers are women, including the General Manager, this is not a trivial matter. Family friendly means that both men and women can enjoy an inclusive culture and equal opportunity at work. 

Supporting healthcare policy: GSK's Latvia's involvement in local healthcare infrastructure and development is important to help patients in Latvia gain access to the best options and the best healthcare treatment. GSK Latvia supports The Foreign Investors Council in Latvia (FICIL) - an organization that brings together the largest companies from various countries and sectors that have made significant investments in Latvia. With a place on the Board of FICIL, GSK Latvia drives home the message that an investment in healthcare is an investment in the economy. Lack of access to healthcare limits economic growth. GSK Latvia has been instrumental in ensuring healthcare issues have a place on the FICIL agenda and are included in FICIL's annual report, a recent new addition.

Ice cream in Latvia: Ok, you're right, this is not part of the GSK Latvia report. But how can I talk about a report without mentioning ice cream? So if you are in Riga, then Skrīveri Home-made Ice Cream seems to me to be the place to go. 100% natural ice cream with all-natural flavors. First stop next trip.

In the meantime, read the report, give feedback! 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   

Monday, October 27, 2014

Reporting Matters.. more

Last year, the WBCSD (World Council for Sustainable Business Development), headed by the fearless Peter Bakker, published a review of sustainability reporting called Reporting Matters. I didn't get to blog about it at the time (I wish I could do nothing but blog) but I have taken it up again in the run-up to the invitation-only WBCSD Council Meeting in a couple of weeks in Atlanta, where I will be speaking and moderating in some sessions. The Atlanta meeting is themed: "Business - Setting the Pace". At this meeting, with the belief that business is a driving force for delivering sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges, senior executives of WBCSD member companies come together to explore opportunities to advance WBCSD's Action2020 strategy. The Council Meeting draws CEOs, Council Members and thought leaders from across all sectors and geographies in a high-level game-changing outcome-oriented week of debates and decisions. 

For those not familiar with WBCSD, it is an organization with a powerful voice in our sustainability landscape and a leading authority on natural and social capital risk management, disclosure and valuation. I include a brief blurb from the WBCSD website. 

"The WBCSD is a CEO-led organization of forward-thinking companies that galvanizes the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment. From its starting point in 1992 to the present day, the Council has created respected thought leadership on business and sustainability. The Council plays the leading advocacy role for business. Leveraging strong relationships with stakeholders, it helps drive debate and policy change in favor of sustainable development solutions. The Council provides a forum for its 200 member companies - who represent all business sectors, all continents and combined revenue of over $US 7 trillion - to share best practices on sustainable development issues and to develop innovative tools that change the status quo. The Council also benefits from a network of 60 national and regional business councils and partner organizations, a majority of which are based in developing countries. By thinking ahead, advocating for progress and delivering results, the WBCSD both increases the impact of our members’ individual actions and catalyzes collective action that can change the future of our society for the better." 

Now you know. Check out the website. It's a wealth of resources. 

Anyway, back to the matter in hand and that's Reporting Matters. (Matter, matters. Good, right ?)

WBCSD produced this report in partnership with communications consultancy Radley Yeldar as a tool to help improve the effectiveness of reporting. Member companies can use the WBCSD analysis of their reporting to help improve different aspects of their own disclosure. Reporting Matters 2013 the baseline report and the research is ongoing with reports planned to be published annually. In early November, in Atlanta, the new Reporting Matters 2014 will be presented to give an updated view of data and trends in reporting effectiveness.

Peter Bakker introduced the 2013 baseline report with the words (among others): "We believe that reporting practices need to change to ensure that businesses are truly valued on what is important, that stakeholders have timely information, and that reports are read and used by investors and other stakeholders."

Reporting Matters measures the effectiveness of  corporate sustainability reporting and to do so, it defines an effectiveness framework based on three key elements: The Thinking that defines the report, the Actions (relating to material impacts) that the report discloses and the Experience that the reader has when reading the report.

The Reporting Matters baseline examined 175 Sustainability Reports (including integrated reports) of WBSCD member companies across 20 sectors and 30 countries against 17 criteria (12 content-related and 5 experience-related).

For each of these criteria, Reporting Matters explains the approach, provides key findings from the research, offers recommendations and showcases best practice distilled from the 175 reports analyzed. Some of the overarching conclusions were:
  • Companies are reporting far more than a focus on material impacts might suggest. This makes for long, unwieldy reports and difficulty in finding the most relevant and useful information.
  • When combined with the annual report, the amount of sustainability content disclosed is generally less than a standalone report.
  • 75% of the reports analyzed follow GRI Guidelines and these tended to be the ones with the higher effectiveness scores.
  • 80% of the 175 reports analyzed were standalone sustainability reports. However, self-declared integrated reports scored higher on the WBCSD effectiveness scale than many standalones. 
  • 60% of companies have some form of external assurance at some level on some part of the report but only 4 companies (2%) used reasonable assurance for their entire report. 
But the real meaty stuff of this report is in the detailed analysis of the report against the stated criteria. Unfortunately, WBCSD does not share with us, the general professional public, the exact scores that each report received (though WBCSD member companies each receive their own scores and have the opportunity to discuss and review with WBCSD Reporting Matters experts). However, Reporting Matters shares enough for us to get the benefit of the learning and appreciate some great examples of reporting practice. Some examples follow.

Strategy and Drivers: Reporting Matters says: "A sustainability strategy is a clearly-articulated approach or plan to address material financial, environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities. It should link to a vision, a mission and provide an explanation of how the strategy will be delivered, including milestones and targets."

This made me stop and think, and agree, as more and more, I find that I read sustainability reports with a need to understand the strategic relevance and embedded approach that companies have adopted. In the early days of reporting, it was all about taking action in addition to doing your business. Reports were all about "we did this" and "we did that", where "this" and "that" referred to a volunteering activity, a charitable donation, a training event for employees or a LED lighting retrofit. No connection to an overall approach, strategic direction or business relevance other than the platitudes of "giving back", "doing the right thing" and "valuing our planet". Today, it's about being accountable for impacts across the value chain and through the core business. Today, if sustainability is not part of your business strategy, then your business strategy is not part of your future success. In any sustainable business strategy there is value, and that value should be clear as we read a company's sustainability report. Reporting Matters found that:
  • The most effective reporters disclose a business strategy that links to positive sustainability outcomes, such as the management or avoidance of sustainability risks or the development of opportunities through innovation. The strategy is supported by a detailed implementation plan. 
  • The most effective reporters define a specific business case for sustainability, referencing drivers such as cost savings, reputational benefits, and employee retention, as well as wider societal needs. 
  • Many reporters however do not establish a clear link between sustainability and their core business nor do they define a company-specific business case. 
  • Many reports do not include a sustainability vision and consequently do not communicate a clear sense of direction or purpose.
One of the three showcased examples includes Svenska Cellulosa:

Svenska Cellulosa is  a global hygiene and forest products company with around 44,000 employees that develops and produces sustainable personal care, tissue and forest products. The current Svenska Report for 2013 supports the insights noted by Reporting Matters about the prior report. Often, you can tell how much sustainability is embedded in a company's strategy simply by looking at what the company chooses to highlight. In 2013, Svenska highlighted real business developments that have sustainable value. 

While Svenska links its activities to business drivers and reports the results of activities, there is room to go further by reporting more outcomes and linking these outcomes to the business, as well as social and environmental value created. 

Evidence of Activities: Reporting Matters says: "Evidence of activities involves reporting on sustainability activities such as strategic programs and initiatives that occur during the reporting year, or progress of existing sustainability activities. It helps link management approaches to actions and performance and can substantiate statements and claims."

Well, evidence of activities may not seem too much of a stretch for most reporters. In fact, most reporters are more than happy to elaborate on things they did. I wonder if the focus here shouldn't be more on evidence of outcomes rather than activities. However, Reporting Matters 2013 made some relevant recommendations for reporters that refer to the way outcomes are included in disclosures. 
  • Include more specific narrative on strategic sustainability activities that address material issues during the reporting year. 
  • Illustrate sustainability activities through relevant and compelling case studies focusing on material issues, linked to a wider strategic program or management action and focused on outcomes. 
  • Provide appropriate background on the development of strategic programs and initiatives over time but focus on achievements and progress during the reporting year. 
  • Show how disclosed management processes and tools support the implementation of strategic programs and initiatives.
One of the three showcased examples of Evidence of Activities is the Lafarge 2012 report.

In Lafarge's subsequent 2013 Sustainability Report, the company continues its use of relevant case studies that provide evidence of Lafarge's progress.

This is sustainable core business, and references the difference (outcome) that Lafarge is making through sustainable innovation. I would welcome even more detail on the actual outcomes in case studies such as these, but in general, this is an effective way to get the message through.

Partnerships and Collaborations: Reporting Matters says: "Appropriate and strategic partnerships and collaborations can help accelerate action and scale up solutions by combining expertise, resources and networks across key stakeholders who share a common goal. Partnerships and collaborations should focus on addressing a company’s material issues and support the implementation of a company’s sustainability strategy."

This is an interesting criterion and one that is becoming more imperative for most companies as we speak. More and more, the revelation that collaboration is key to sustainability is affecting the way companies approach their own strategies and actions. Our client, Netafim, who recently published a Sustainability Report called "At the Heart of the Food, Water and Land Nexus", knows only too well that, just as all problems are interdependent, so are all solutions. Collaboration is therefore part of the solution. Where every material impact is at some form of nexus (my new sustainability buzzword), so every material action is also at some form of nexus. Collaboration at the Nexus - that's our future.

Reporting Matters 2013 shared these key findings:
  • The most effective reporters highlight strategic partnerships and collaborations that address material issues, and help to implement the company’s sustainability strategy. 
  • The most engaging reports provide details on the expected benefits of partnerships and collaborations for the business as well as for relevant stakeholders.
  • Companies however do not always consistently focus on establishing partnerships which are strategic and that have the potential to deliver the biggest value for the business by being closely aligned with the overall sustainability strategy. Such partnerships are typically philanthropic and not linked to core strategy.
One of the three showcased examples of Partnerships and Collaborations is the Vodafone plc 2012/2013 report which Reporting Matters says has a strong partnership-oriented focus. 

I checked out Vodafone plc's 2013/2014 Sustainability Report and this continues to play out. The word "partnership" features more than 50 times in this report and it's choc with partnership examples in the area of core business. These include partnership around e-mobility, M2M connectivity, technology-supported waste management, smart working solutions, women's security, sustainable agriculture and many more examples. 

I could go on (a lot) but I think this post is already long enough. The point is simply that Reporting Matters is an exceptionally useful document that helps us understand some of the ways in which reporting can become more effective, which according to the WBCSD approach means that it demonstrates strategic sustainability thinking and actions leading to materially relevant outcomes while being focused, balanced and engaging to read.

There are a couple of aspects relating to reporting that I might have added to the WBCSD effective-reporting criteria. There are some things I always look for that for me, really make the difference to the effectiveness and quality of a sustainability report. For example, the leadership statement. This is not directly covered by the defined Reporting Matters criteria. Interestingly too, because WBCSD is a "CEO-led" organization. The CEO statement in any report should not be just an evergreen boilerplaty platitudy we-love-ourselves cringe-piece. It should add value to the report by clearly framing the report context, the company strategic focus and challenges and the intentions to deliver improved material impacts on stakeholders. The CEO statement is the entrance-lobby of the report. If it's not compelling, you don't want to go any further.

Having said that, WBSCD seems to have a good recipe. What makes it truly worthwhile is the ongoing nature of this analysis. The 2013 report is interesting, but the trends and dynamics that will be observed over time with each successive report are the key. It'll be fascinating to see how things have changed during the past year. While we shouldn't get carried away and expect complete transformation of reporting in such a short time, the introduction of G4, the new IIRC framework, progress in SASB standards development, CDP expansion, consultations by WBCSD with its reporting member companies and a generally highly dynamic reporting environment with increasingly legislative orientation (such as the recent European directive) and greater SEC commitment (e.g. Singapore), it's possible that we might find that reporting effectiveness has turned up a notch.

But Reporting Matters 2014 is not the only reason I am looking forward to being in Atlanta. Guess what else I found to do. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why YOU HAVE to attend.......

..... the fourth annual Smarter Sustainability Reporting conference. It's on February 24th, 2015 in London.  It's THE annual conference all about sustainability reporting that I chair every year. No, it's not just for reporting geeks, though geeks are thoroughly welcome.

And the reason YOU HAVE to attend is that, for three years now, we have held these totally amazing, informative, content-rich, expertise-packed, opinion-forming, insight-generating, brain-cell-activating, networking-supporting conferences and we still do not have the answer to the question: What is Smarter Sustainability Reporting? We've debated, discussed, shared, chaired, talked, balked, asked, answered, thought, contemplated, ruminated, instigated, irritated, cajoled, encouraged, suggested, digested and just about everything else you do and don't do at conferences... and we still don't have a definitive answer. That's sad. We may have had an answer in the second conference, but then the world changed and we went back to the drawing board at conference three. At this, the fourth annual, we simply have to have an answer. Maybe YOU are the one who can help?

We have a great line-up of expert speakers and panelists - and still more to confirm.

  • Nelmara Arbex, Chief Advisor on Innovation in Reporting, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI
  • Sarah Grey, Markets Director, International Integrated Reporting Council, IIRC
  • Steve Kenzie, UK Network Secretariat, Global Compact Network
  • Simon Howard, Chief Executive Officer, UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF)
  • Dr. Paul Toyne, Sustainability Director, Balfour Beatty Construction Services
  • Louise Tyson, Head of Reporting, BP
  • Katie Buchanan, Head of Sustainability and Reporting, Virgin Media
  • Irene Jakobi, Sustainability Manager, Telekom Austria
  • Mardi McBrien, Managing Director, Carbon Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB)
  • Shaun Davis, Group Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing &  Sustainability, Royal Mail
  • Crystal Crawford, Corporate Responsibility Manager, Liberty Global
  • Verity Lawson, Sustainability Reporting Manager, British American Tobacco
  • Michaela Rose, Sustainability Advisor, Forum for the Future

You would think that these fantastic experts would have ALL the answers but I can promise YOU, they can't do it on their own. They need YOU.

How do YOU define Smarter Sustainability Reporting? What makes smart smarter? And what makes reporting reporting? From GRI G4 to integrated reports to carbon disclosures to investor interest to innovation to local/global to transparency, creativity and materiality and a whole lot more, we'll be looking to get at the answer that has been evading tens of speakers and hundreds of delegates since the start of our conference series. Do YOU know? Are YOU harboring a totally intelligent response that we are all waiting for? Are YOU willing to share? Will YOU come to the conference and enlighten all of us? 

If YOU decide to come and help us out, I can offer YOU a discount (being the chair has some privileges) and I can promise to be eternally grateful. And so will everybody else. YOUR presence and contribution is absolutely what will make the difference.

That's not to say that in three years of conferences we haven't answered other questions about reporting, the reporting landscape, trends, challenges, risks and opportunities. A mix of practitioner and subject-matter experts, we have always had rich debate and generated a host of action-oriented insights. The feedback from attendees has always been strong. Each conference has been remarkable. The desire to share and learn more about what's going on in reporting is obviously very much alive for both reporting geeks and reporting non-geeks. That's why we keep doing it. 

You may be wondering by now, what's the point of having a conference every year that can't answer its own question? I remember someone quoting some smart famous person who said: if you keep doing the same things, you keep getting the same results. Or something like that, probably more elegantly put. Which is exactly why we continue to shake things up every year. No two conferences are the same. We have a different agenda, different speakers, different round-table talk sessions, different panel discussions and different areas of focus. We don't keep doing the same things but we still don't have the answer to this really truly completely fully exceptionally elusive question: What is Smarter Sustainability Reporting? Obviously, we have been missing something. Yes. We have been missing YOU. So, please come. Please share. Please tell us YOUR answer. Please help make this conference even  more remarkable. 

So: Block out the date in your diary. Contact me for a 15% discount code. Register. Get prepared to share. And watch this space in the run-up to the conference for more posts in conversation with some of our speakers.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   

Monday, October 20, 2014

Summing up Sustainability!

Novus International released the company's sixth annual online Sustainability Report just recently, this time in accordance with GRI G4 at core level.

Novus International, Inc. is a privately-owned feed ingredients company, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., serving customers in nearly 100 countries around the world. A global leader in developing animal health and nutrition solutions, Novus products include feed supplements, additives and many specialty ingredients that help animals digest food better and improve their well-being. All of the products that Novus develops and markets to livestock farmers, small and large, around the world have sustainable benefits - improving feed efficiency, enhancing yield and quality, reducing costs and taking high levels of waste out of the supply chain. Both in established markets that face new economic and regulatory challenges on a daily basis, and for smallholder farmers in emerging markets where Novus has developed a strong presence, this can mean the difference between a successful, sustainable livelihood and hardly any livelihood at all. A more efficient farming operation can be the key not only to surviving but to thriving for many Novus customers.

Inherently sustainable products and services
Novus delivers products and services that are inherently sustainable and improve the efficiency of the entire food chain. In the 2013 report, Novus sums up several of the positive impacts achieved through the company's core business activity. One of my favorite examples is a story about the outcomes of the C.O.W.S. program.

Comfort. Oxidative balance. Well-being. Sustainability.

Over the past three years, Novus invested in a groundbreaking study, the largest of its kind in the world, to assess animal husbandry practices in the dairy industry, and the subsequent implications for both animal welfare and productivity. Novus maintains a team of qualified technicians, who work closely with farm owners, nutritionists, herd managers and veterinarians to understand herd practices and the impacts on cow comfort and productivity. Between 2010 and 2013, Novus assessed 75,000 cows and 400 farms, some multiple times. The results provide incredible insight into performance by size of farm, region, and general management practice, and help understand the bottlenecks that affect cow comfort and ultimately, dairy farm profitability. Novus repeated assessments at over 20 farms, thereby understanding the measure of improvement that was achieved following the implementation of changes made by farm owners after they were presented with herd information. The detailed assessment data helped them understand where productivity bottlenecks were occurring in their farm management practices.

Just one outcome story (and there are many) from this massive undertaking is about a family-owned dairy in New York that, in just one year, maintained milk production while reducing culling rate, halving the prevalence of lameness and knee injuries (which reduce milk production), and delivering improved milk quality for higher-profit sales. In several cases, data from the C.O.W.S. study was instrumental in helping farmers convince the banks that there is a good business case for making a loan to enable farmers to invest in efficiency improvements. In some cases, this made the difference between farmers continuing to produce or closing up shop. This is about sustainable value delivered through the core business, and summing up the research and outcomes of 75,000 cow assessments is one of the truly interesting parts of this report.

The report also contains many other examples of how Novus, through its core products and services, has enabled enhanced customer productivity and profitability. In doing so, Novus makes a strong contribution to overall food availability and cost-efficient food supply chains around the world.

Transitioning to G4 and material focus
The report is somewhat of a transitional report, making the change from GRI G3 reporting at B level for the past few years now, to a more ambitious report using the G4 framework, including consideration and declaration of material issues and the start of a more strategic approach to overall sustainability performance. 

One of the things I have always admired about Novus and the 50 or 60 people I have got to know during the time I have been working with the company is the deep sense of vision and mission. 

People talk this. They work the vision. It's not something I just see in a document somewhere. The many sales people out in the different markets and the extensive research teams in the U.S. and Spain describe their roles and ongoing activities in terms of the degree to which they are contributing to global food security. This plays out in the many conversations I have each year with many individuals around the Novus world. 

In preparation for this report, Novus assessed the issues that matter most, starting with a Materiality Map of more than one hundred potentially relevant areas of material impact. After discussion with stakeholders and internal reviews, Novus created a set of five core material sustainability impacts that reflect the way Novus both makes a contribution and manages its own performance.

The alignment of material impacts and G4 material Aspects, as well as Performance Indicators reported, can be found in the GRI G4 Content Index.

Materiality the heart of the compass
At the heart of the sustainability priorities compass are Novus customers and the sustainable contribution that Novus makes to ensuring they do well, as shown above in the C.O.W.S. story. This is by far the most important and most significant opportunity for Novus, and, by focusing on how customers can do better, Novus does better. And inherently, the world food chain, society in general and the environment all benefit. Reductions in nitrogen emissions from animal livestock, for example, is an outcome of using Novus products. One of the challenges, of course, is knowing how to measure these outcomes, and in preparation for the Summing Up Sustainability Report, many different measures were reviewed and assessed, and this will continue to be refined as Novus moves forward. 

Sustainable animal agriculture is also an important impact for Novus. The agriculture sector, despite its critical importance for our sustainable future, faces many challenges, not least the fact that agri-professions are apparently not as sexy as they used to be. With 70% of the global population migrating to city-living by 2050, as some projections point out, the need for agriculture to be and stay state-of-the-art is even more critical than ever. With 30% - 40% of food production being wasted before it even gets to the consumer, the need to employ skilled people, science-based solutions and enabling technology is no less critical. Novus identifies with these industry challenges and accepts its role in helping attract new talent to agriculture and supporting development scholarships for many agri-students around the world. 

Employee well-being
Another thing that has always impressed me about Novus is the attention paid to employee well-being through the Novus Live Well Program. Employees who subscribe to Live Well gain many personal incentives and benefits, simple by doing things that help keep them and their families fit and healthy. Employees participate in fun, healthy lifestyle events, often as part of teams, and this also contributes to an open and interactive networked culture within Novus. In return for investment in a workplace that supports healthy lifestyles, in addition to organizational and employee productivity benefits, Novus has experienced a reduction in healthcare costs. Win-win all around.  

As always, I recommend you take a look at the Novus International report and.... yes.... give feedback!

Disclosure: Novus International is a valued client and I worked on this report, the fourth I have supported for Novus during a time of significant business change and development for the company. Each year has been fascinating and none more fascinating than the last. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Frustrations with online reporting

As techy as I am, and I am reasonably digitally-literate, I suppose, for my age (as my kids would say about anyone over 35), there is something about online reports that doesn't work for me. 

It's fabulous to have information accessible but for me, a report that is entirely online with no possibility to download the full or at least a summary is a turn-off. I was travelling last week in Europe and internet access is not always easy. Free WiFi in my hotel gave such a weak signal that I abandoned it. In other places, international roaming costs an arm and a leg. I have a personal hotspot deal that provides 400MB for around $10 and that's pretty good, but for a heavy user such as me (not games or movies, just regular work type surfing, downloading reports (:)), emailing and a few apps), that barely covers half a day. Local or international data bundles are not always available and when they are, the price per mega is far more. Travelling is the one time that I have time to look at things I don't have time to look at when I am under deadline pressures. Flying time is perfect - oops, no internet on flights. I have about another 50 hours of flying and airport time coming up in November - most of that is free-WiFi-less. No online reports. I have no idea what free or low-cost internet access is like in other parts of the world outside of Europe and the U.S. and a few other places I have traveled. I expect it's even harder or costlier to hook up outside your own home in many places. So, why do companies insist on providing sustainability reports that can only be viewed online? This is so restrictive. Financial reports are never only online (I believe) - there is always a downloadable document. 

Don't get me wrong, online is great and opens up access to many - including consumers - that reports wouldn't otherwise reach. Online reports provide opportunities for feedback and dialogue in real-time - page by page - much better than asking someone to provide feedback about an entire report if they have read only a couple of sections. Sharability of online content is also a big advantage for expanding the reach of your report. But can't we have the best of both worlds? 

The report is a long down-scroll webpage with highlights. Side-scrolling from each section takes you to more detail.

But, when you go for the detail, you lose the report.

For example, I selected to "learn more" about sustainability education for employees. I left-scrolled. This brought me to another page with a font so small I had to enlarge my screen.

After the short text, there is a clickable link to a "Related Article" which brings you to another part of the Annie's website that is outside of the report content. Browser back-click to get back to the report. Repeat endless times to actually read any content. Don't bother. Simply give up. 

No site-map, no contents list, no index. For some, this may be a great online experience. For myself, a professionally-oriented reader of reports (and I understand that I might be outside Annie's target audience, even though I am positively disposed towards organic food :)), it really doesn't work for me and I give up once I see that I am getting nowhere fast. While I commend this organization, and I really do, for reporting on sustainability and doing so quite attractively and creatively, as well as achieving some sustainability performance plusses, I find this reporting format frustrating. (At least it's not a flip-book. Don't get me started on those.....). A small PDF download for me to read offline in an orderly and sequential way would make all the difference.  

Annie's is just one example of many companies that seem to believe that the progressive and PC thing today is to report exclusively online. I could give many more report examples, some that have easier navigation, some that are impossible, some long, some short, some with webby pyrotechnics and pop-ups and pop-outs and dynamic menus and charts and more. No matter how fancy they are, I can never read them on a flight, it costs me an arm and a leg to read them while I am travelling, and I have to spend (and waste) time clicking away for everything I want to glance at. 

The real value of online reports should be real-time accessibility and interactability. Accessibility is limited, as I have noted, but if your report is online, then why not use this as an opportunity to invite feedback online and generate some dialogue? A bit of talkback may do the company some good. A learning opportunity. The Annie's report interactivity is one-way. It has several share buttons - you can pinterest it, google it, facebook it and even email the URL to all your closest friends.... but you can't comment on it. You could go to Twitter and interact with @AnniesCEO there, but who can be bothered? Twitter is not the best tool for providing report feedback. 

This rant-post therefore is both an expression of my frustration to all online-only reporters and a plea to you/them to go the extra mile and publish reports in a way that make it easier for a wider range of stakeholders to use them. I LOVE reports. I hate having to miss out because online just isn't there yet. 

PS: Maybe we have missed the boat with Annie's. The company has now been bought by General Mills. At least General Mills has a downloadable PDF sustainability report. However, I am not so optimistic about the chances of Annie's brands competing strongly with Cheerios for page space so we might just find ourselves wanting the online report back :-)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   

Friday, October 17, 2014

Insights from the 2014 Humboldt Berlin CSR Conference

There's nothing like a good conference to add back a little buzz to those old brain-cells. Especially ones that have been somewhat numbed by non-stop sleep-depriving work on G4 reports for our clients. Ha Ha. Joking of course, we LOVE reporting. But we also love great conferences.

This last week I was honored to both speak at and attend the 6th International Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, organized by the incredible gentleman and scholar, Professor Dr. Joachim Schwalbach. The conference drew a massive crowd, many academics - teachers and students - from a range of impressive institutions, as well as corporate and other delegates. It was a refreshing two days, full of thought-provoking debate. 

I took part in three sessions. As a panelist in the a parallel session on Day One, moderated by Dr. Carol Adams, and as a moderator for a plenary and parallel session on Day Two. Of course, when you are involved, it is difficult to remember everything that went on. It's a bit like trying to recall what the food was like at your own wedding. However, here are a few insights:

Evolution of corporate reporting 

The role of Stock Exchanges in driving disclosure: We were treated to an opening presentation by Sonia Favaretto of the Brazilian BM&F BOVESPA Stock Exchange, who demonstrated that the "report or explain" approach for listed companies had boosted corporate disclosure in Brazil quite substantially. This enlightened Exchange has driven reporting reach for more than a couple of hundred of the larger Brazilian companies, in line with the Stock Exchange's mission "to promote sustainability and private social investment aligned with strategy". I believe this is a lead that many more Stock Exchanges will follow in the future, although at present, a study by Canadian Corporate Knights Capital found that only 128 (less than 3%) of the 4,609 largest companies listed on the world’s stock exchanges disclose data on basic sustainability indicators such as employee turnover, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, injury rate, pay equity, waste and water. In the meantime, BMFBOVESPA publishes a list of who has reported and who has not, and the reasons they gave for not doing so. 

The legal implications of the newly adopted EU reporting directive: Dr. Birgit Speisshofer was the lawyer on the panel, and after the usual jokes about lawyers, she gave us a detailed legal-lens view of the implications of the EU Directive for disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large companies - expected to affect around 6,000 companies in Europe. Without going into all the details, it seems that this legislation is rather flexible, including some leeway for member states' adoption to meet local preferences, and has several fuzzy areas that can exempt certain reporting requirements for companies for whom reporting may not be the height of excitement. So, while the spirit of the law will drive reporting forward, I have no doubt, the pace, quality and consistency of reporting may well remain challenged in Europe. 

Reporting consistency and comparability: One of the key aspects of reporting that held the conversation for a while in this session was the notion of comparability. Do current reporting frameworks facilitate comparability and did they ever? My view on this is quite firm. There is no comparability (between companies) today, there never has been and there probably never will be. Take any small selection of reports and try to compare performance data either across sectors or within a sector and you come up with almost as many different versions of performance disclosure as you have reports. Even trying to compare one company against its own prior performance is often a challenge. Current reporting frameworks would have to be far more prescriptive in order to drive consistency and comparability. And it is precisely such prescriptiveness that companies fight to avoid. Why is comparability so important? Because we all want a sense of whether progress is being made, companies share a competitive spirit and investors look for relative assessments for their portfolio trade-offs. Saying there is no comparability when there are so many ratings and rankings out there that claim to have "the formula" for evaluating relative corporate sustainability performance may be tantamount to heresy. But, I say, there is no comparability. Burn me at the stake. Don't waste your time looking for comparability. Look instead for evidence of robust process, relevant disclosure around material impacts, consistency of targets and reported performance over time and stakeholder interactions that deliver confidence that change is being achieved.

Who is the audience and does it matter? As usual, the question of who reports are for, who the audience is and who "actually" reads them came up once again. Well, you know by now that I say reports are not meant to be read. They are meant to be written. And when they are written, they can be used by a wide range of stakeholders. Recall that stakeholders are often multi-hatted. An employee can be a shareholder can be an environmental activist can be a local community member can be a disabled person can be married to a local policy-maker can be mother or father to an investment analyst, blogger, journalist or other professional. The stakeholder concept is not what it used to be. Neat compartmentalization of stakeholder interests is now not an exact science. The boundaries are getting fuzzier. Information channels are getting re-wired. Targeted messaging for the purpose of dialogue and engagement is not the sole remit of a sustainability report. We would do well to recall that a report is designed to account for impacts. The impacts define the stakeholders and not the other way around. Although I will bet there are plenty who disagree with me.   

For an additional overview and perspective on this panel and others, see a post from Dr. Carol Adams, who moderated the session.

Reputation, CSR & Innovation

The Reputation Economy is alive and well: We opened this session with a presentation from sharp-thinker Leslie-Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick, who focused on the Reputation Economy and the role of the CEO, quoting a stat that 50% of reputation equity is created by the CEO. The value of reputation in today's complex info-dynamic world cannot be underestimated and the challenges of managing reputation in a way that is constructive (and not construed as manipulative) require new skills, and that means more than CEOs tweeting and sharing family photos. The CEO reputation is as important as ever, according to Leslie, and in a world where trust in business is not always so positive, the CEO can play a critical role. 

Reputation should work inside the company as well as outside the company: As reputation leaders, CEOs have the opportunity to drive corporate reputation internally as well. That may sound like a non-sequitur - isn't reputation external? - but it's true. Susanne Marell of Trust-Barometer-fame Edelman (Berlin)  says that employees want CEOs to speak up for them, they want CEOs to be their representatives, people of whom they can be proud. No wonder Glassdoor rates CEOs as well as companies. CEOs would do well to remember that their audience is not only those to whom they do not pay salaries. 

CEOs are not recruited with CSR in mind: Brigitte Lammers of Egon Zehnder astounded us all with her statement that, in the hiring process for CEOs, no requirement for the "new" CSR-type skills relating to engagement or stakeholder or reputation management are sought. Instead, CEOs are hired for traditional qualities such as decision-making, P&L orientation, experience, profit maximization etc. So you tell me, if business is going to change the world, how is it that CEOs are not changing? Next time you are in the market for a CEO, think about what kind of company she has to lead. Ha Ha. Subtle. More women CEOs may just be the best of all worlds.  

Thank you to Joachim Schwalbach for this photo

Reputation, CSR & Communications

We opened this panel up with a question to five experts.

Everyone in business today and in society in general faces a mass of information in all forms, via all channels 24/7/365. How do you get people to pay attention to your CSR message?

Simple question. Complex answer. Breaking through the noise is not such a POC. It's more than publishing a Sustainability Report and expecting people to find it. Five panelists offered great insights about how to help make your CSR message stand out from the crowd, increase trust and enhance the reputation of your company. 

Berhnard Schwaeger of Robert Bosch GmbH suggested that, in addition to an annual Sustainability Report, maintaining consistent dialogue and sharing information, including talking about difficult or challenging topics, is the way to do it. The Bosch Sustainability Blog is an example of the way Bosch walks the talk. 

Leslie Gaines-Ross is acutely aware of the multiplicity of messaging and communication channels and says that breaking through the noise means (appropriately) using all available channels - social media, video and more traditional channels - in the optimum way. 

Gabi Faber-Wiener, a respected voice in business ethics and founder of the Centre for Responsible Management in Vienna says, perhaps not surprisingly, if you want to get your CSR message through, don't call it CSR! Who wouldn't agree? 

Mette Morsing of Copenhagen Business School reiterated that "communication is action" and engaging in partnerships with third parties and having them endorse you for your work and involvement is a way to ensure your message gets told. 

Finally, our second expert of the day from Edelman Berlin, Bernd Buschhausen, offered a little relief to corporate CEOs by saying that the CEO should not be the only one talking CSR - employees and external partners can also be fantastic ambassadors of your CSR message. 

Whatever ways you choose to get your CSR message through the sound barrier and bypass the tendency of the general media to report only shock and horror and avoid the good stories, all agreed that CSR communications should be relevant, engaging and inspirational. 

I couldn't help adding a word or two ten about reporting, being a reporting geek as I am known to be. Reporting may not be THE way to ensure that your message breaks through, but when people are looking for your message, it will ensure they find it. When people want to know about you, your Sustainability Report will make sure they get what you give. You can't make Mohammed come to the mountain, but when he gets there, you can make sure he drinks from the right well. Or whatever other mixed metaphor your prefer. Research has shown that reading a Sustainability Report increases the readers' trust in a company. A well-written, material-focused and forward-looking sustainability report is the story your stakeholders, internal and external are looking for. It's as indispensable having a website, a business card, a smartphone and ice-cream. It's part of the corporate package and its not in competition with any other company. It's the way you tell your unique corporate story and it's an essential element of Reputation, CSR and Communications. Now, why wouldn't everyone want a piece of that?


All in all, the Berlin CSR Conference was two days well spent and I have only scratched the surface in this post. Many plenaries, parallel sessions, awards, books, discussions, good food, drinks, music and even dancing made this conference one of the must-attend events of 2014. Fortunately, we only have two years to wait for the next one! See you here in 2016.   

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   
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